Just a year ago, the Brigham Young Cougars linebacking corps returned only one starter (Jordan Pendleton). In 2011, it is the exact opposite. Just one starter from 2010 needs to be replaced (Shane Hunter). Returning three of four starting linebackers is just one reason the expectations for this unit are very high going into the season.
The second reason to be excited about the BYU linebackers this year is Hunter’s replacement: Uona Kaveinga. Kaveinga redshirted 2010 after transferring from USC. Kaveinga was a high school All-American and saw action in 16 games his first two years as a Trojan. He has stepped in and, in the words of head coach/defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall, become the leader on defense. With no disrespect to Hunter, but having Kavinga at middle linebacker should be an upgrade from last year.
The third reason the linebackers will be the strength of the defense is depth. Not only are the 2s pushing the 1s, but the 3s are equally pushing the 2s. This is particularly true at outside linebacker. Pendleton, Jameson Frazier (Lott Trophy candidate), Kyle Van Noy, and Jadon Wagner could all start at most schools in the country. Mendenhall also tabbed backup middle linebacker Austen Jorgensen as the second best playmaker on defense. There is no shortage of talent and ability from the rest of the backups: Alani Fua, Spencer Hadley, Austen Heder, Connell Hess, Aveni Leung-Wai, Tyler Beck, Kevan Bills, Tanner Cox, Lene Lesatele, Manoa Pilkula, Seth Probert, and Va’a Niumatalolo.
The most interesting linebacker to watch might be Ezekiel “Ziggy” Anseh from Ghana, Africa. He is still developing a complete understanding of the game, but has NFL potential. Coaches will use his size and speed situationally to their advantage, and catch unsuspecting defenses off guard.
Brandon Ogletree will be back for a second year as a starter as the other middle linebacker, also known as the buck linebacker. “Tree” is a wild and crazy playmaker.
Zac Stout played last year as a true freshman, but will redshirt this year while he rehabs some injuries. Uani Unga will redshirt as he sits out the mandatory one year after transferring from Oregon State.
Whether it is defending the run or dropping into coverage to clog up the passing lanes, this set of linebackers has what it takes to be a pain to the opposition.
Other 2011 Previews: Season Preview, Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, Running Backs, Offensive Line, Defensive Backs, Linebackers, Defensive Line, Special Teams
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